Serpentine Pavilion, the version of Sumayya

Returns after a forced break of nearly two years on Serpentine Pavilion, temporary structure in the Kensington Gardens which has always marked the beginning of the summer season in the English capital. An event now in its twentieth edition, important because it simultaneously celebrates the 50th anniversary of the institution and the much-desired return to a semblance of post-pandemic citizen normality.

The 2021 pavilion bears the signature of Counterspace, an all-female South African interdisciplinary studio – led by Sumayya Vally, with Sarah de Villiers e Amina Kaskar – and will occupy the space of the garden in front of one of the galleries from 11 June until 17 October this year.

Made with the support of Goldman Sachs, is a meeting place born from the deep study of various areas of the English capital characterized by strong immigration and varied cultural identity, from Brixton to Hoxton, from Tower Hamlets to Peckham, to name a few.

The structure is in recycled steel, cork and wood covered with microcement, it has pink and brown textures and shades that directly trace the architecture of London with reference to changes in the quality of light. A sort of temple of anthropological celebration, an ideal dialogue between different cultures right in the center of Kensington Gardens, with voices from different backgrounds, focused on the themes of identity, community, belonging, aggregation and resistance.

Past and present stories make up a solemn pavilion with a meaning that goes beyond architecture: for the first time, the structure extends beyond the perimeter of the park to encroach on the city, with four “islands” located at the headquarters of partner organizations whose work inspired the intervention: New Beacon Books, one of the first publishers of black authors in the UK, The Tabernacle multipurpose community center in Notting Hill, The Albany art center in Deptford and the Valence Library in Barking and Dagenham.

With her thirty years, the architect Sumayya Vally is the youngest of the designers who have followed one another in the 20 editions of the Serpentine, started in 2000 by Zaha Hadid and the fifth woman ever to design the pavilion, in the squad with Kazuyo Sejima (and Ryue Nishigava for SANAA), 2009, Lucia Cano del duo SelgasCano, 2015 and Frida Escobedo in 2018.

Fine Art

Sumayya Vally

Never as this time has the Serpentine Galleries pavilion enclosed messages that go beyond architecture. Where did they come from?

This assignment was very important to tell about the stories about London. I was inspired by the events related toimmigrationand, it was important for me to look for the places when I arrived in the city. Investigate neighborhoods to discover these tales and related events.

I spent a lot of time at the Bishopsgate Library looking at their collection of brochures. The research led me to spaces such as the Theater of Black Women, the East London Mosque and the Jamme Masjid, the Centerprise publishing house, Hackney and many others. Places of cultural production concerning art, publications but also where everyday activities take place.

It also has a lot to do with the rituals of everyday life …

With spaces where people gather together to cook or eat, to celebrate their roots, cultures and traditions. I spent a lot of time walking around the city photographing, for example, small grocery stores. The stories of the past and the present are revealed through the pavilion in the form of meeting areas for conversations for two, boxes or tiers that offer a different scale of intimacy. These “presences” placed in another context therefore create a direct exchange between the different parts of London and the pavilion and vice versa.

The theme of social inclusion stands out strongly …

Absolutely yes. The will was to understand as many voices as possible, but it also has to do with extending the pavilion platform to other conversations between different parties and to other places.

Do you think we need to focus on the past to plan for the future?

How we look at the past determines what we do today. I’m interested in the idea of ​​this multitude of different stories. The dominant historical version we are usually given is very specific. This pavilion was an opportunity to amplify and clarify the story from other points of view. Highlight differences by looking in places outside the context of traditional archives, for example, in small shops or galleries. What you say is accurate: we cannot design something for the future if we have not fully understood our history.

Having spent a lot of time in London developing your project, what idea did you have of European cities and society?

I hesitate a little in expressing an opinion on the concept of a European city per se. Cities are changing and, if we talk about London, it is a city in constant change that contains many influences and presences from all parts of the globe, certainly not limited only to the context in which it is located.

Even in the part of the world where I come from there are cities with a European footprint that are inherited from our history and our past. Basically, all are full of life and I am interested in looking at them and understanding them under a different lens. The in-depth analysis of less explored aspects, the greater understanding, necessarily give new perspectives that vary the way of designing.


Iwan Baan’s Photo

How will cities transform after the pandemic?

Each challenge is an opportunity that an architect must tackle with positive approach and a sense of optimism. Times of crisis must necessarily teach us something and we must understand how to design in a new way. On a pragmatic level, this period we are experiencing is sure to change the way we see things for quite some time. I hope it hasn’t created a definitive sense of separation but rather one greater awareness of collective value.

What is the place that has impressed you the most in London?

I spent the period from December 2019 until March 2020 in London, planning to stay there until the inauguration of the pavilion scheduled for June of that year but then I had to leave due to the lockdown. It is difficult to choose just one of the various places I went to, like The Tabernacle, a multipurpose community center in Notting Hill, or The George Padmore Institute, the UK publishing house New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park and, of course, Kensington Gardens.

What does it mean today to be a woman and an architect?

I think there is an absolute need for more women to draw things. Not only that, we need projects from several different people, a variety of multiple voices. In the world we live in, so problematic and which is observed only from the dominant point of view of the white-western man, looking differently can help to find alternative solutions, provide more varied answers.

As a woman but also as an African and a Muslim I see things differently. I can bring a contribution made by wealth of culture and history of my continent. The more diversity of views and opinions we engage the better, with better inspiration and greater wealth to face challenges.

Ecology and sustainability: are we still in politically correct territory or is enough being done?

Absolutely not. It’s as you say and I couldn’t have said it better. We still deal with it only on a very superficial level, referring only to materials and the green rating, but to deeply understand the policies of sustainability and all the tentacles in which ecology is articulated is another thing. it deals with mining, capitalism, industrialization and many others of these themes.

The world we have inherited is so closely “entangled” in these issues. As we said, we need to delve deeper into our past to push forward in a different direction.

The pavilion is a temporary structure, its studies are dedicated to archeology and lost historical sites. How are these two temporal dimensions reconciled?

My pavilion will be installed somewhere else after these months, then it will have a later life as a permanent inspiration. I am interested in all levels of temporality and pre-eminent physical structures with the influence they have on our way of being, the actions that take place there. I’m also interested in how we can extend the field of architecture to other temporal scales.

To give you an example, there are several ways to represent the African tradition, which is also expressed with the connected rituality, the way of honoring through a rite and not only with a monument or physical structures. I am interested in making buildings but also much more, because we have to understand that architecture goes beyond involving a lot of other things as well.

I believe that for her architecture has a strong value in terms of vocabulary.

It is very important to understand architecture as a language just as it is incredibly important to develop new expressions that concern other hybrid identities or different territories, architectures different from the ones we have inherited. Architecture expresses and dictates what we are, organizes us and makes us understand what we are. An extension of ourselves that includes many levels.

Who are the architects from whom you draw lessons?

Those who express the different world they come from, like Isamu Noguchi, Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, BV Doshi o Francis Alys, which offer a different perspective for what they are, for their geographical origin, their origin and culture. Or the Italians of the 1960s period – Superstudio, Massimo Scolari – because they added a liveliness and a multitude of different channels for making architecture.

dove: Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park. Fermata metropolitana South Kensington
: From 11 June to 17 October 2021


Source: Living by

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